At 5199 meter Mount Kenya is the highest mountain in Kenya and the second highest mountain in Africa. Where as Kilimanjaro is famous for its almost symmetrical ice clad cone, Mount Kenya is maybe more diverse and rugged with its many towering peaks. Mount Kenya is located in central Kenya, just south of the equator, around 150 kilometres north-northeast of the capital Nairobi.
Mount Kenya is the source of the name of the Republic of Kenya. An area of 715 km2 around the centre of the mountain is designated a National Park and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The mountain has been considered sacred by all the groups who have lived in the area. The Kikuyus deified it as the seat of their God Ngai and they called the mountain Kirinyaga, White Mountain. To the Meru tribe it was the realm of the God Murungu and only venerable elders were allowed onto the high parts of the mountain. They used to build their houses facing the mountain, with the doors on the side nearest to it and also they buried their dead with the head aligned with the summit.
Giant Lobelia provide an intrinsic visual signature of Afro-alpine vegetation and they can grow up to an altitude of 4000 meter. Rainwater is stored inside a Lobelia making it possible for the wildlife and birds on the mountain to quench their thirst away from the streams.
Geology and altitude zones
The Mount Kenya massif is roughly circular, about 60 km across at the 2000m contour, where steep foothills rise out of the gentler slopes of the Central Highlands. Actually the mountains enormous diameter at this altitude, has made some scientists suggest the height of the original volcano to be about 15 km and Mount Kenya should be what is left from the big explosion.
Others have made a more cautious estimate that the original crater was a bit higher than Kilimanjaro at 6,000m. Since it became extinct there have been two major periods of glaciation, which are shown by two main rings of moraines.
The climate of Mount Kenya changes considerably with altitude and there are eight vegetation zones from the base to the summit. The damp and wet weather makes perfect conditions for mosses. The lower slopes are covered by different types of forest and at an altitude of up to 2000m you will find an abundant wildlife; elephants, buffaloes, giant forest warthogs, monkeys, parrots and even rhinoceros are sometimes to be seen in the forest. Most lodges on the mountain are situated in a clearing in the forest, right next to a waterhole, where many animals come to drink.
Above the forest is a belt of bamboo intersected by paths made by elephants and buffaloes. Above the bamboo is the timberline forest where trees are often smaller than the trees in the forests lower down the mountain. When the trees can no longer grow the vegetation changes into heathland and chaparral and above this is the Afro-alpine zone.
The environment in the higher zones is very isolated and many of the species here are endemic, with adaptations to the cold and fluctuating temperatures. Typical plants here include giant groundsel (Senecios) and giant Lobelia.
There are several routes ascending the mountain and despite some being longer, and maybe more interesting and/or beautiful, every route leads you through the same altitude zones and their spectacular flora and fauna. The mountain can be trekked by any reasonably fit person, all the way to Point Lenana at 4995 m but the two tallest peaks – Batian (5199 m) and Nelion (5188 m), can only be accessed by experienced mountaineers.
Trekking on Mount Kenya
Since the mountain can be climbed in only a few days, altitude sickness, also known as acute mountain sickness (AMS) is actually a bigger danger on Mount kenya than on the higher Kilimanjaro and it is strongly advisable to have a guide to accompany you – not just for safety but also for the detailed information they can provide about the unique Afro-Alpine habitats on the mountain.
An experienced mountain guide on Mount Kenya and with his crew of porters is often the crucial difference of reaching the summit or not. The weather on Mount Kenya can change dramatically in just a few minutes, and due to temperatures going below zero and strongs winds at the summit, you should bring warm and waterproof garments. Mount Kenya is becoming increasingly popular with mountaineers from all over the world (Reinhold Messner) the first man to climb Mount Everest without oxygen did much of his high altitude and ice training on Mt Kenya. The main central peaks; Batian and Nelion, requires rope and ice axes, and a certain degree of proficiency. Lenana is suitable for all climbers; The four main routes to the are; Naru Moru, Sirimon and Timau tracks, they are on the western slopes; Chogoria is on the eastern slopes. One can take a circular route or use a different track on the return leg.